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A phone call away . . . Centrecare Waimate manager Sam Roebeck fields a call. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

As wait times for mental health services increase around the country, Centrecare Waimate’s remain at a minimum – almost always less than a week.

That is despite a high demand for its counselling services, which has consistently increased since it expanded in 2017.

Over the past 12 months, Centrecare Waimate received 429 new clients, compared with 295 the previous year, manager Sam Roebeck said.

That increase would have been much larger if the Covid-19 lockdown had not reduced the availability of services.

The Waimate-based mental health service provider has also branched out to Timaru and Oamaru, and a counsellor is based in Oamaru’s Community House on Fridays.

Despite the increased demand for services, wait times for those seeking mental health support were generally within a week of someone calling, Ms Roebeck said.

“The counsellors are good at time management and keeping the clients progressing,” she said.

“We have some clients who come each week without fail, but we have a lot of people who come along to one or two sessions and then take some of those skills away with them.”

The increased demand for counselling services was a good thing, as people were more willing to ask for help, Ms Roebeck said.

“People are aware that what they are experiencing can be helped.

“What they might not have labelled as mental health issues before, they now can see perhaps it is.

“It’s easier and [there is] less stigma to ask for help – it’s kind of normal now.”

During lockdown, appointments were held digitally, and the centre was getting back to pre-Covid levels of face-to-face business now, Ms Roebeck said.

Some specific mental health issues were emerging from Covid-19. The biggest increase in new clients had been couples requesting counselling, she said.

“In a roundabout way, Covid has meant extra stresses on the family; it’s filtered through.”

Funding remained an issue, as Centrecare operated outside of the district health boards and had to fund itself, she said.

“We are looking OK at the moment. If we continue to pile on the appointments, I don’t know.

“Funding is always a major headache.”

Centrecare counselling sessions cost $20, but some people who could afford to gave more because they took great value from the service, Ms Roebeck said.

To book an appointment with a counsellor, call 0800 80 22 22 or (03) 689-8337.